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Warlord Dostum returns to Afghanistan

HERAT: The video screen grab from AFPTV shows Afghan special forces patrol the streets of Herat as the Taleban continue a series of offensives against urban areas in Afghanistan. – AFP

KABUL: Infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum has returned to Afghanistan as the Taleban inch closer to taking control of his longtime stronghold in the north and fight for control of a string of cities elsewhere. Ehsan Nero, a spokesman for the former army paratrooper, told AFP that Dostum arrived in Kabul on Wednesday night and was meeting senior officials to talk about security in Sheberghan, capital of Jawzjan province.

The former vice president has been in Turkey for months, where he was believed to be receiving medical treatment. “He is waiting to meet President Ashraf Ghani,” Nero said yesterday. Dostum has overseen one of the largest militias in the north, which garnered a fearsome reputation in its fight against the Taleban in the 1990s-along with accusations that his forces massacred thousands of insurgent prisoners of war. A rout or retreat of his fighters would dent the Kabul government’s recent hopes that militia groups could help bolster the country’s overstretched military.

Fighting in Afghanistan’s long-running conflict began to intensify in May, when US and other foreign forces began the final stage of a withdrawal due to be completed later this month. The Taleban already control large portions of the countryside and are now challenging Afghan government forces in several large cities. The European Union yesterday condemned the Taleban’s latest deadly attacks in Afghanistan and demanded “an urgent, comprehensive and permanent ceasefire”.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and EU commissioner for aid and crisis management Janez Lenarcic accused the Taleban of breaking their promise to seek a negotiated peace. “This senseless violence is inflicting immense suffering upon Afghan citizens and is increasing the number of internally displaced persons in search of safety and shelter,” they said. The Afghan and US militaries have stepped up air strikes against the insurgents, and the Taleban warned Wednesday that they would target senior government officials in retaliation.

The Taleban threat came after the Afghan military continued a counterattack in the southern city of Lashkar Gah, where insurgents have infiltrated several parts in numbers. The army told the city’s 200,000 people to evacuate on Tuesday. The insurgents have taken control of vast swaths of the countryside and key border towns, taking advantage of the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of US forces. They are now targeting cities, with fierce fighting for a week around Herat, near the western border with Iran, as well as Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.

As the Taleban make battlefield gains, months of on-and-off talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government in the Qatari capital of Doha have achieved little and appear to have lost momentum. A bomb-and-gun attack on Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi Tuesday night brought the war to the capital for the first time in months. But fighting has raged in the countryside since May, when foreign forces began the last stage of a withdrawal due to end later this month.

The Afghan and US militaries have stepped up air strikes against the insurgents, and the Taleban said Wednesday the Kabul raid was their response. “The attack is the beginning of the retaliatory operations against the circles and leaders of the Kabul administration who are ordering attacks and the bombing of different parts of the country,” Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on social media. It represents a major escalation by the Taliban, who have largely refrained from large-scale attacks in the capital since starting talks with the US on their troop withdrawal. – AFP

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